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Departing School Board Members Celebrated



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At their final meeting of the Board of Education before newly elected individuals take their seats, three members who are stepping down were celebrated by Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue.

“This evening’s Celebration of Excellence is bittersweet as we say farewell to three very dedicated Board of Education members,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue.

The Board of Education routinely holds a Celebration of Excellence at its meetings to highlight district educators, staff, and students. And at the latest meeting, Dr Rodrigue said she was speaking on behalf of the entire school district in recognizing the three Board of Education members who are stepping down from their positions — Chair Michelle Embree Ku, Vice Chair Dan Delia, and member Debbie Leidlein. Ku was elected to the Legislative Council and will begin her time on that board in December.

“As both a member of the board for the last eight years and as a chairperson,” Rodrigue said to Ku, “I know everyone will agree that your work in advocating for our staff, our students, our families, was evident, not only through your work here on the board, through your actions and interactions, but also working tirelessly with members of CABE (Connecticut Association of Boards of Education) as well as your input at the state level through addressing educational priorities with our legislation.”

Rodrigue said Ku’s energy and dedication has been recognized by many in the school community.

Rodrigue fished by saying, “Thank you for everything you have done and I know that you will continue to be a thoughtful, insightful, and supportive voice on the Legislative Council.”

Rodrigue then addressed Delia.

“Your work on the board over the last four years, and most recently as vice chair has meant a great deal to all of us,” said Rodrigue. “As an educator yourself, you had a unique lens in which to view and discuss various topics and issues. And in your role as facilitator of the board’s [Capitol Improvement Plan] CIP Committee always helping us think through areas related to facilities and finance, your heart was always there for all of our students and families and how we could better support them.”

Offering her thanks to Delia for his guidance and counsel, Rodrigue said, “We’ve become a better board and a community thanks to you.”

Before speaking to Leidlein, Dr Rodrigue said, “This is a tough one.”

“With 12 years on the board, I know you had the opportunity to interact with various leaders, staff, and board members,” the superintendent told Leidlein.

As another educator serving on the board, Rodrigue said Leidlein has a built-in understanding of teaching and learning.

“You know students, you know staff, you know leaders,” Rodrigue said to Leidlein. “Your involvement over the years on many committees — negotiations, budgets, superintendent searches — and so many other commitments. You have certainly carved a path for us in the future. Thank you for your hard work, dedication, and all of your effort.”

Departing Member Insights

Following the meeting both Delia and Ku offered insights into their time on the board.

“As I reflect on the past four years, I am honored to have served with such a collaborative and dedicated team all with the same vision of serving the students to the best of our ability,” Delia said in an e-mail. “My hope is that this wonderful work will continue and I am confident it will. Thank you to everyone who lent a hand along the way.”

Ku shared a post she also published on Facebook.

“I am honored to have served with an amazing superintendent and the six outstanding members of this board,” Ku wrote. “You have served this district with integrity and wisdom, and I have no doubt that those who remain with the board will continue in this spirit.”

Ku also thanked district staff members for supporting the board.

“The outgoing Board of Education,” Ku wrote, “has much to be proud of. Our members navigated a mass shooting in an elementary school; supported an overhaul of school security; changed school start times for teen health; encouraged multiple self-studies in academic departments to improve practices; evaluated the costs and benefits of closing a school (twice); committed to continued work on improving school climate, including diversity, equity and inclusion; and navigated an unprecedented change in learning due to a pandemic.”

Those efforts were done on top of ongoing policy review, contract negotiations, school construction projects, curriculum evaluation, and more, Ku pointed out.

“There will be challenges for the new board, not least of which is the growing political divide,” said Ku. “In addition to the accomplishments I shared above, one of the most consequential legacies that this board leaves behind is its uniting commitment to keeping politics out of the work of the board. I hope that the new board uses this foundation to navigate the challenges of an increasingly partisan climate.”

Newly elected Board of Education members Janet Kuzma, Jenn Larkin, and Don Ramsey will begin their time on the board in December. Ku said she hopes their time on the board will be as rewarding as it was for her.

In closing Ku wrote, “I am very grateful for the teachers and staff, who love, support, and teach our children, and for all the people who provide the organization, scaffolding, administration, and support services to ensure that the schools operate smoothly and that students are prepared to learn each day. ‘It takes a village,’ and in Newtown, our ‘village’ — from the board, to the superintendent, to the staff, to the parents, and to the taxpayer — is an amazing alliance. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of it.”

Education Reporter Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at eliza@thebee.com.

Board of Education Chair Michelle Embree Ku, Vice Chair Dan Delia, and member Debbie Leidlein hold plaques given to them by Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue at the school board’s November 16 meeting, which was their last as Board of Education members.—Trent Harrison photo
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